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Phone: 360-902-2515
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Cascade Mountain Range Fisher Reintroduction

Cascade Mountain Range Fisher Reintroduction Updates
We have summarized some of our observations and some preliminary data to share with anyone who is interested in knowing more about the project. These updates will allow you to keep track of the released fishers and how the project of reestablishing fishers is progressing.

2016
2015
Note: These updates contain unpublished, provisional data subject to revision.

July 13, 2016
Jeff Lewis (WDFW), Tara Chestnut (Mount Rainier National Park), Jason Ransom (North Cascades National Park) and Dave Werntz (Conservation Northwest)

A great number of activities occur every day in a population of wild animals, and most are unknown and go unnoticed.  This disappointing fact is true even for populations where every individual has a radio-transmitter, as is the case for the reintroduced population of fishers in the southern Cascade Range.  It would be fantastic to see how these fishers hunt at night, negotiate the quills of a cornered porcupine, confront a bobcat, swim across a river, fight for a mate, or casually saunter across a log straddling a deep gorge.

While we don't get to see many or any of these activities first hand, we do learn a lot about each fisher when we locate them from the air (e.g., habitats and landscapes where we find them, time and distance from the previous location, survival status, distance to the nearest neighboring fisher?).  Our goal is to locate each fisher every week but this goal is not attainable; see Figure 1 for the area where fishers have been located since December of 2015.  Poor weather conditions make flying impossible during some weeks, and finding every fisher each week is just not possible because they can travel to places beyond where we search, and they like to rest in places where their radio-signals are greatly diminished or difficult to detect (e.g., in large log at the bottom of a steep canyon).  So we keep looking (Figure 2) and we find some of those that were missing the previous week or for the last month or two, and we try to recover those that have died right away (before they are too decomposed) so we can determine how they died.  It's only a little bit of what we would like to know, but it keeps us learning about them and thinking about ways to learn more.   

Figure 1. Map with the black dashed-line indicates extent of the southern Cascade Range where reintroduced fishers have been located since December of 2015.

Figure 1. The black dashed-line indicates extent of the southern Cascade Range where reintroduced fishers have been located since December of 2015.  The white line is the boundary of Gifford Pinchot National Forest and the green line is the boundary of Mount Rainier National Park. 

 

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Map: The colored lines indicate the flight paths of 17 telemetry flights flown since December 26, 2015 to locate reintroduced fishers in the southern Cascade Range.

Figure 2. The colored lines indicate the flight paths of 17 telemetry flights flown since December 26, 2015 to locate reintroduced fishers in the southern Cascade Range.  The boundaries in this figure are that same as those indicated in Figure 1.

 

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Since March, we have been focusing on locating females to determine if one or more females gave birth to kits.  Although we did find that 4 of the 11 released females used localized areas during the breeding season (possibly indicating the use of a den site and the birth of kits), we have not yet identified a female that had kits.  All 4 of these females were young; 2 were estimated to be subadults and could have given birth to kits, whereas the other 2 females were estimated to be juveniles and could not have given birth to kits.  Of the 2 subadults, female F001 left her occupied area during the early part of the denning season, which indicated that she did not have kits; whereas female F006 died (or was killed) before we could determine if she had kits.  We are hopeful that many of the 9 surviving females from the first year of releases will be giving birth to kits in March/April of 2017.

We have had 5 mortalities (3 males and 2 females) since the beginning of the project in December 2015.  Unfortunately, and because of some unexpected circumstances, we have only recovered 3 of these 5 fishers.  We recovered male M005 north of the Cispus River near Tower Rock, which appeared to die as a result of wounds to his mouth, nose and upper jaw and a subsequent infection following a fight or altercation with a larger fisher or another predator (Figure 3).  The remains of female F006 were found in a forest stand on the eastern edge of the Mount Saint Helens blast zone (Figure 4).  While we have not completed the necropsy on female F006 yet, we suspected she was killed by a predator. 

Photo: A view of male M005, which shows a large wound where an upper left molar was crushed, a diagonal bite wound across the palate (note the linear black streak) from the crushed molar to the socket of the upper right canine tooth, which was also broken off in an altercation with another fisher or another predator.

Figure 3. A view of male M005, which shows a large wound where an upper left molar was crushed, a diagonal bite wound across the palate (note the linear black streak) from the crushed molar to the socket of the upper right canine tooth, which was also broken off in an altercation with another fisher or another predator.  

 

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The remains and transmitter for male M009 were recently recovered in a relatively inaccessible area of the Gifford Pinchot National Forest.  Male M009 died during the winter months and was fully decomposed when recently located, however fragments of its skull and other bones were recovered and may provide an indication of the cause of death.   

The transmitter of male M016 was detected just off the south shore in Riffe Lake (east of Mossy Rock, WA on State Highway 12 in Lewis County) and his remains could not be recovered because of its location and the lake conditions. Consequently, the cause of M016's death was unknown. 

While no remains of any sort were observed near it, the abdominal implant transmitter for female F004 was found near a picnic area between the Cispus River and Yellowjacket Creek on the Gifford Pinchot National Forest (10 miles SE of Randle, WA).  While these findings are inconsistent with most natural sources of mortality, the cause of female F004's death was nonetheless unknown. 

Photo: USFS District Biologist John Jakubowski is pictured here at the eastern edge of the Mount Saint Helens blast zone while he was on his way to recover female F006 with WDFW Biologist Jeff Lewis.

Figure 4. USFS District Biologist John Jakubowski is pictured here at the eastern edge of the Mount Saint Helens blast zone while he was on his way to recover female F006 with WDFW Biologist Jeff Lewis.  Aside from his many other responsibilities, John is a partner on the fisher reintroduction project and instrumental in coordinating  USFS activities, addressing logistical issues, assisting with field activities, and sharing a big enthusiasm about fishers, fisher recovery, and mesocarnivores in general.  Thanks, John!     

 

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Now that its summer, we are past the breeding season and we expect most fishers to localize and establish a home range, if they haven't already. This should make finding them on a regular basis much easier, because they won't be wandering so far and wide, which was the case during the breeding season.  As they localize, we will have the opportunity to get a lot more data on the areas they select for their home ranges and the movements they make as they establish and occupy a new-found home range.  It's a great time to learn a lot about reintroduced fishers


March 11, 2016
Jeff Lewis (WDFW), Tara Chestnut (Mount Rainier National Park), Jason Ransom (North Cascades National Park) and Dave Werntz (Conservation Northwest)

The first capture season for the Cascade Fisher Reintroduction Project is officially completed! We are grateful for the efforts of everyone involved with the project, especially the aspiring young biologists who helped with each of the four releases. The project was launched in the fall of 2015, with 2 fisher releases in December (see details in the December 2015 update), and was followed by 1 release in January and 1 in February; and all 4 releases occurred at the Cispus Learning Center on the Gifford Pinchot National Forest.  In this update, we wanted to share some highlights of the releases and other activities in January and February before we transition to the activities that will keep us busy during the denning and breeding season (March to July).

The first release in 2016 occurred on 16 January on a typical Pacific Northwest winter day, overcast, slight showers, and a mild temperature. We released 6 fishers (2 females and 4 males) with the help of a number of the younger folks in attendance.  In fact, one of these young biologists provided an incredible video of one of the adult males making a hasty departure from his transport box. It was really great to have so many fisher enthusiasts come from all over Washington and beyond and be a part of these release events.

  FISHER MALE RELEASED FROM TRANSPORT BOX
Video by Story Warren

Adult male being released from transport box


We offer streaming video files
in Windows Media format.   

On 6 February 2016, we released another 6 fishers (4 females and 2 males). The weather was perfect and we were joined by project partners and other fisher enthusiasts as well as a group of future biologists who were visiting the Cispus Learning Center from Nisqually Middle School. Almost every release went as expected – the door to the transport box is opened, the fisher is reluctant to leave the box for a few seconds, then bolts out across the creek bed into the Douglas fir forest and we watch until it is out of sight.  However, the last fisher to be released (female F025; "Margy") appeared unconcerned about our expectations of how her release would go. She bolted from her transport box, followed the creek upstream rather than crossing it, ran right in front of a number of spectators, and headed straight up a large big-leaf maple!  She was the first fisher we've seen climb a tree when released rather than run through the forest. She paused for a minute on her way up the tree, which allowed those quick with their cameras to snap a couple of great shots before we corralled the group and hurried away to give her plenty of space in her new home. Make sure you see some of these highlights in the video links below!   

  FISHERS RELEASE IN WASHINGTON'S CASCADES
Video on Center for Biological Diversity Facebook page taken by Noah Greenwald

Pacific Fishers released into the wild

  FISHER FEMALE FO25 CLIMBING TREE AFTER RELEASE FROM TRANSPORT BOX
Video by Alex Harris

Adult female being released from transport box


We offer streaming video files
in Windows Media format.   

In this first year of the project, we released a total 23 fishers: 11 females and 12 males, and we are well on our way to achieving our goal of releasing 80 fishers in the southern Washington Cascades over the next two years.  Our next capture season can begin when the fisher trapping season starts in British Columbia on 1 November 2016, and we expect the first fisher release in Mount Rainier National Park shortly thereafter (mid to late November)! 

With 23 fishers running around the forest, there are a lot of moving targets to keep track of, and these fishers can move a good distance in a very short amount of time.  Luckily, many of them have not travelled that far from the release area, with 15 of the 23 recently being located within about 21 miles of the release site (Figure 1).  This is good news for a couple reasons.  The relatively short distance that many fishers have moved from the release site suggests that habitat conditions in the vicinity of the release site are meeting their needs.  The short distance movements also indicate that many of the released fishers may have come into contact with each other and this may make it easier for males and females to find each other during the breeding season, which is pretty important because our goal is for this population to grow and become well established in the south Cascades.

Figure 1. The location of the Cispus Learning Center where a total of 11 fishers were released on 3 and 23 December 2015.

Figure 1. The black dashed-line encompasses all locations obtained from 3 December 2015 to 27 February 2016 for 11 female and 12 male fishers released on the Gifford Pinchot National Forest (white dashed line). Eight fishers that have not been located within the last month may occur outside of this area. The release site at the Cispus Learning Center is indicated by the green star.

 

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Our focus now has shifted from releasing fishers to tracking them from the air.  Our goal of flying at least once a week has been a challenge because of the stormy winter weather conditions in the Cascades and Puget lowlands.  While poor weather conditions made it difficult to regularly locate fishers, we are flying as often as the weather will allow so we can monitor fisher movements throughout the southern Washington Cascades. This is really important for females as we approach the breeding season in the end of March. With regular flights and telemetry locations, we can determine when a female is consistently using a localized area, which indicates that she is likely occupying a den site and has given birth to kits.  Once we locate a denning female (typically in April, May or June), we can place cameras at the site to confirm that she is attending to kits. Fishers move kits to new den sites throughout the season and if we photograph her moving kits from a den site, we can determine how many kits she has in her litter.  

As the spring and summer approach, we will continue our telemetry flights, locate den sites, and confirm reproduction at these sites. We will also be locating fishers that die so that we can determine the cause of death, determine what they have been eating, and evaluate their physical condition (e.g., weight loss or gain?, pregnant?) since being released.  As you may have guessed, there are a lot of important things we can learn when we recover a dead fisher.  All of these tasks will keep us very busy and we will keep you regularly updated on what we learn.


 

December 31, 2015
Jeff Lewis (WDFW), Tara Chestnut (Mount Rainier National Park), Jason Ransom (North Cascades National Park) and Dave Werntz (Conservation Northwest)

On Thursday, 3 December 2015, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, the National Park Service and Conservation Northwest took the first step in restoring fishers to the Cascade Ecosystem of Washington. These organizations and their partners are working together to reintroduce fishers to the Cascade Mountain Range. They released the first group of fishers at the Cispus Learning Center in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest, approximately 10 miles south of the town of Randle, Washington. A total of 7 fishers (4 females and 3 males) were released in front of a large group of wildlife enthusiasts interested in seeing the first fishers return to the Cascades. A number of the younger folks helped release the 7 fishers, which quickly disappeared into the forest cover. The event was recorded by a number of media representatives and outlets (see photos and videos below).

Figure 1. The location of the Cispus Learning Center where a total of 11 fishers were released on 3 and 23 December 2015.

The location of the Cispus Learning Center where a total of 11 fishers were released on 3 and 23 December 2015.

 

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Photo: Female fisher in her transport box, 3 December 2015; Photo by Jason Wettstein, WDFW

Photo: Adult male fisher released 3 December 2015; Photo by Paul Bannick, Conservation Northwest

Figure 2. Female fisher in her transport box, 3 December 2015; Photo by Jason Wettstein, WDFW Figure 3.
Adult male fisher released 3 December 2015; Photo by Paul Bannick, Conservation Northwest

Once these 7 fishers were released, we wanted to see where they went.  Unfortunately, the incredibly rainy weather in December made it impossible to safely fly to the south Cascades to track released fishers from the air. Consequently, we were only able to locate released fishers on 4 occasions from the ground, and we were able to find 5 of the 7 fishers that were released on 3 December.

The second fisher release event occurred Wednesday 23 December and was also at the Cispus Learning Center. Wintery and wet conditions, prior commitments, and the busy nature of the holiday season made it difficult for many folks to attend the release but about 25 hardy souls made the trek out to the Center. These folks helped release 4 fishers (3 males and 1 female) into the snowy forest landscape and 3 of the 4 zipped across a small creek and disappeared into the forest cover (see photos below). One male, however, had no intention of crossing that small creek and he doubled-back and ran right around the young fellow that let him out of his transport box and right through the group of spectators (see photo below by Jason Ransom, National Park Service), to our great amusement.

Photo: Female fisher released 23 December 2015; Photo by Paul Bannick, Conservation Northwest

Figure 4.

Female fisher released 23 December 2015; Photo by Paul Bannick, Conservation Northwest

Photo: Fishers released on 23 December 2015; Photos by Paul Bannick, Conservation Northwest

Photo: Fishers released on 23 December 2015; Photos by Paul Bannick, Conservation Northwest

Figure 5 and 6. Fishers released on 23 December 2015; Photos by Paul Bannick, Conservation Northwest
Photo: Adult male fisher released on 23 December 2015; Photo by Jason Ransom, National Park Service

Figure 7.

Adult male fisher released on 23 December 2015; Photo by Jason Ransom, National Park Service

 

While conditions for flying have been challenging so far, we have recently been able to fly twice to locate released fishers, and found all 11 fishers alive and well within 15 miles of the Cispus Learning Center! We expect weather conditions in the upcoming months to be good enough for us to fly on a regular basis so that we can closely monitor the movements and locations of these new Washington fishers.  Also, in an effort to get to our target number of 40 fishers released this winter (2015/2016), we will be releasing as many as 29 more fishers in the upcoming weeks. So stay tuned for more fisher action in the weeks to come!